Fukushima’s nuclear accident should teach us about nuclear power dangers, if only we’d pay attention

Supposedly nuclear power plants are extremely clean – and certainly they don’t directly produce a “carbon” footprint, in the way that fossil fuels do.  However, a few years ago we had Stanford Univ Professor Mark Jacobsen speak at the Electric Auto Association (Silicon Valley Chapter) about a study he wrote going over all the ways to power America’s vehicle fleet, and the carbon footprint of each.  When he came to nuclear power the carbon footprint was pretty large, and he asked us – what’s the carbon footprint of nuclear war?

Given that we’re almost at the 3 year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident, we should amend that question to ask what’s the total impact of a nuclear power plant disaster?

Japan is going to spend the next 40 years cleaning up the Fukushima power plants, and the cleanup has barely begun.  The cost of that cleanup should serve as an object lesson for all the people pushing nuclear power on us.  Is this what we want?

I remember during the GW Bush Admnistration that, at least once, Bush suggested nuclear power as a way to resolve America’s dependence on foreign oil.  During the Bush years, America’s dependence on oil imports grew to over 65% and now, thanks to Fracking, as well as offshoring oil usage to China, oil imports while still high are dropping.

In any case, Bush’s proposal to replace oil with nuclear power is patently ridiculous.  They’re not the same sort of power – nuclear plants produce electricity, while oil produces a liquid fuel.  If there were a large-scale switch to electric cars then the nuclear option begins to make more sense – but we still have to account for the total cleanup costs from the occasional nuclear power plant accident that’s bound to occur.

Since when have humans ever made a totally reliable anything?  Build enough nuclear power plants and surely a few of them will have a big failure, even the modern designs.

Anyway.. there’s some recent news about the Fukushima cleanup I want to record.

Contamination near Fukushima a year ago

Construct facilities to store N-waste to get decontamination work on track: Talks about plans to store contaminated soil on-site at the Fukushima Daichi power plant.  What’s happened is during the accident, and later, nuclear material spewed out over the countryside, and there is lots of land that’s highly contaminated.  There are some towns wher`e people are living, and they’ve mapped where the contamination is, and have signs up saying “don’t go here because of nuclear contamination.”

These towns are supposed to be building temporary holding facilities for contaminated soil, but there’s been some resistance.  According to this article the total material is 20x larger than the Tokyo Dome (which, I assume, is a large sports stadium in Tokyo).
As it stands, decontamination is stalled because the final storage site hasn’t been built, and there aren’t enough temporary storage sites, and some are afraid the temporary storage sites will become de-facto permanent storage sites.  What we’re talking about is soil and other material that’s contamination with radioactive material.

 

Storage tanks at Fukushima

New steps worked out to deal with contaminated water at Fukushima plant:  Some of the cleanup work at the plant site is a crazy system of desperately spraying water on melted nuclear piles, to keep them cool, but which results in contaminated water.  Lots of it.  This is going to take another 10-40 years of water to keep the damaged reactor cores from becoming even more dangerous.

At the moment there are over 1000 large storage tanks, currently containing 350,000 tonnes of contaminated water.  Last fall it was revealed TEPCO hired shoddy contractors to build the tanks, and there have been reports of leaking tanks.  The article claims the large number of tanks is too many to inspect manually – which suggests they should develop robotic inspector gizmos, right?
There’s also groundwater flowing through the site which is becoming contaminated.
The result is an amount of contaminated water continually flowing into the ocean.  And in some corners of the Internet we have resulting fear-filled rants about how the Pacific Ocean is dying because of this.  Unfortunately the oceans appear to be dying anyway, because of other issues such as rising ocean temperatures and overfishing.
Nuclear fuel is being removed from the pool in reactor 4 right now.  Plans are to remove the fuel from reactors 1 and 3 eventually – perhaps the 2015-17 time-frame.  Those two reactors appear to have had a proper meltdown, which will complicate removing the fuel.
Additionally the containment vessels are cracked, and they’re looking to use robotic assistants to map out the damage and perhaps fix the damage.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

Leave a Reply